Time Off Tricks or Getting Pig out of the Furnace.

If not, you could be wrong!

Faithful readers know that in a bizarre example of employee scheduling, a worker in Saginaw, Michigan called his boss one spring morning in 1986 to alert him he’d be late for work – “My pig fell into the furnace and I had to take it apart to get the pig out!”

The good folks responsible for employee time off management will be relieved to know that most people’s reasons for showing up late for work are more mundane, the fanciful assertions of some websites notwithstanding. Herewith, in no particular order, is a collection of ten of what are claimed to be some of the most common excuses bosses have heard for employee tardiness:

1. Commuting Problems

Nearly a third of all excuses, for example, have to do with problems on the commute to work. Unlike the pig stuck in the furnace, which is a once-in-a-lifetime excuse, this one can be used time and again, because traffic in most places is usually unbearable during rush hour. Keep in mind that commuting problems have a limited utility as an excuse for being late if your boss lives nearby. Mass transit users have a special bonus here because once they’re on the train or bus, there’s little they can do to affect the commute’s outcome.

Traffic problems
Traffic problems.

As long as it’s not too often, employees prefer to give commutation-related excuses because they don’t point to a personal shortcoming the boss can pick on, like oversleeping. Sometimes, traffic problems get so bad that they’re reported on the news, such as when a head of state visits a city and the security forces shut down all roads. “Do you remember that time when the PM came to town? I was stuck in traffic for two hours! Thank goodness I didn’t overheat!”

It’s best to be as truthful as possible when explaining why you’re late for work, though – many roads now have cameras that the public can access from the Internet to plan their commute – or to see if employees are telling fibs about monstrous traffic. Likewise, some transit systems will report if trains or buses are more than a certain amount of time behind schedule.

Nevertheless, there comes a point when the boss will fix his gaze upon you and advise you to leave your house earlier in the morning to avoid that traffic, like he does . . .

2. Car Problems

These are closely related to traffic problems. As complex as automobiles have become today, there’s no end of potential problems to report, from dead batteries and flat tires to puddles of mystery goop in the driveway, as well as more exotic issues like transmission slippage, being pulled over by law enforcement for any of a broad range of violations, or running out of petrol.
Again, honesty is the best policy here, because if you tell your boss you got pulled over for speeding or had a flat tire, and then cannot produce the ticket or the receipt for the repair costs, you may have to put a lot more miles on the car looking for a new job.

There’s a drawback to car problems that doesn’t apply to other commuting issues, though: car problems smack of personal shortcomings. If there’s something wrong with your car, most bosses seem to think, there’s something wrong with you. If car problems are persistent, the day will come when your boss fixes you with that baleful look and demands to know when you’re going to get a reliable means of transportation.


A variation on car problems is lost car keys, coupled with an elaborate story of your frantic search climaxing in their discovery in the unlikeliest of places. I had a similar occurrence at my first corporate job – I woke up one day and couldn’t find my glasses. It being New York City, I was able to get to work without driving, but I wasn’t worth much without my glasses. That night after I got home, I tore the apartment apart and found my glasses at the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper.

3. Oversleeping is next

The employee who acknowledges oversleeping is in for a hard time from the boss – tried and true Boss’ remarks are along the lines of “Don’t stay up all night partying or watching television – get to bed at a decent time so you don’t oversleep!”


“This is the third time this month – when are you going to replace that alarm clock?” And the killer: “You bet your sweet *** there won’t be a next time!”

4. Laundry

Another excuse that falls into the personal shortcomings category is laundry – as in “I didn’t have anything clean, so I had to do a load of laundry and the dryer took a really long time.”


When I managed a staff, I actually heard this once or twice, and I’ve got to say it’s a truly pathetic excuse and you should never, ever use it if it isn’t absolutely true, because it’s going to give your boss all sorts of ammunition. Imagine, for example, five or six weeks later, you endure a massive traffic jam but by dint of superior driving skills and an unparalleled knowledge of the back roads, you manage to get to work only ten minutes late. Just as you’re about to tell your boss the heroic story of how you outwitted the traffic monster, he looks up and says “Dryer on the fritz again, eh?”

Personally, even if you really were late because you were waiting for the laundry to finish, I recommend you just cop to oversleeping.

5. Kids

When people have children, those long sleepless nights of trying to get baby to sleep come with a decent excuse for being late – who’s going to deny that your baby cried all night? Or demand to see proof? Even here, though, there’s such a thing as too much – when you stumble in half-an-hour late, bleary-eyed, for the third time in the week and it’s only Wednesday (you think), even the most compassionate of bosses will start to lose patience. Luckily, new parents in many parts of the world have legal protections that let them take a good amount of time off to care for a newborn.

By the time baby gets a few years under her belt, the programs for new parents are generally long forgotten, but it’s no less difficult getting oneself together in the morning while wrangling an allegedly related youth out of bed, through the morning hygiene process, into presentable clothing, and off to school. Many bosses will be sympathetic to lateness excuses related to getting the offspring on their way because they’ve been through the same special hell.


Related to kid issues are kid sick issues, such as “My son’s sick and had to stay home from school, so I called the sitter and she couldn’t make it, and the backup sitter said she’d be happy to, but wouldn’t be able to be at my place until 10 AM, and then she actually showed up at 10:15, so I missed the 10:30 train and had to catch the 11:05 . . .”

On the other hand, there’s always the chance that your boss is determinedly single and never experienced the pitter patter of little feet in the house, or that they enlisted the services of family, in-laws, or paid staff to deal with the more mundane elements of child-rearing. In which case, by the time the heir is 9 or 10, you can expect that baleful stare yet again – “Isn’t that kid ever going to grow up and move out?”

6. Natural events and disasters

Natural occurrences like rain, snow, ice or other precipitation in unusually massive quantities, earthquakes, mudslides, volcano eruptions, forest fires and floods, and related calamities like storm-induced power outages are favorite excuses because they fall into the “no personal shortcomings” category.

Not even the most baleful boss is going to ask you how long you intend living near that fault line . . . When tornadoes run through town, or the region is paralyzed by a blizzard or a hurricane, everybody’s job is to stay safe, and unless your job is an emergency response-type job, such as a power company repair technician or firefighter, you can be confident that nobody notices you’re late because they’re stuck at home too.

A tugboat for Ondoy
A tugboat for Ondoy.

There are two main drawbacks to weather-related excuses: they cannot be invented because they’re so newsworthy that everyone knows when they hit, and will be suspicious if you claim your neighborhood got hit by a tornado it they don’t see it on the news. The other drawback is that such events can be dreadfully dangerous, and the importance of punctuality for work pales in comparison to the hazards posed by even the mildest volcanic eruption.

7. Pets

People with pets are sometimes late for work because their pet was ill or giving birth, or was going through some related trauma.

Pet Love
Pet Love.

In addition, many people who work in traditional offices live on traditional farms, and most will automatically give priority to caring for their livestock in an emergency situation. The boss can fix her baleful glare on them all she wants, but when she asks “Am I to understand that every time your mare is foaling, you’re going to be late for work?” the answer will always be “Yep.”

8. Sick

Personal physical ailments can sometimes come in handy as an excuse for being late. If you and the boss are both over 50, for example, you may occasionally be able to walk in twenty minutes late with your hand on your lower back and say “Sorry, Boss, the sciatica’s acting up again, and I just had to lie down for a few moments before I got in the car.”

La malalta. The Sick Woman.
La malalta. The Sick Woman.

Likewise, if you’re undergoing treatment for any disorder, medical appointments or the effects of treatment may interfere with your work schedule. When this is the case, you should talk to your boss beforehand and alert her that you’ll be undergoing medical treatment that might disrupt your punctuality. A doctor’s note might help. As far as using physical ailments to excuse being late goes, use your own best judgment – it’s one thing to blame tardiness on a bout of diarrhea or an old trick knee once in a blue moon, but don’t claim you’re nauseous from chemotherapy unless you really are.

9. The cable guy

It used to be that if you had an appointment to get your cable television hooked up or repaired, you had to wait at home all day until he showed up. If you ran to the mailbox to collect your mail, you can be sure the cable buy called you during that time to alert you he’d be there in ten minutes, but when you didn’t answer the phone because you were getting the mail, he cursed you out, crossed you off the list and went on to the next appointment, leaving you to wait another six weeks for cable.

The cable guy....
The cable guy…

When I had that corporate job, whenever I moved, as soon as I had the cable appointment, I’d just tell my boss “Cable guy’s coming tomorrow” and he’d nod knowingly, confident that I wouldn’t show up the next day.

Of course, one day he fixed his baleful gaze on me and asked “When exactly do you plan on settling down and give up this hopping about from house to house to house?”

Most utilities, including cable and satellite companies, have much more enlightened policies, and it’s possible not to lose a day’s work to accommodate a 1-hour installation job. Nevertheless, there are some appointments you just have to be at home for.

10. Forgetfulness

You left something at home. This is no better than laundry as an excuse for being late. “Boss, I’d just gotten on the train when I realized I’d left my laptop at home, so I had to go back home and get it.”


I know it happens, but like persistent car problems, oversleeping, and the laundry, it reflects poorly on you. In addition, if the thing you forgot was critically important, as in, “Boss, I left the thumb drive with this afternoon’s presentation on the kitchen counter and had to go back to get it, ” the boss is going to start questioning your commitment.

Employers set work schedules with the expectation that employees will be at the workstations, working, during the appointed times. No matter how honest the reason for tardiness, too many instances are likely to generate an unwelcome comment or worse from the boss. And while the temptation to come up with a creative excuse for being late is sometimes strong, you’re generally better off just admitting you overslept. Or buying a pig and wedging it into the furnace.

Related Material:

New Jersey.com: What are the 5 most common excuses employees give for being late?

CNN.com/Living: Twelve amusing excuses for being late to work

Tulsa World: John Stancavage: Being late for work inspires creative excuses

Written By

Dale Marshall

Human Resources Manager.